(FILE) - This file picture shows oil pumps in operation at an oilfield near central Los Angeles on February 02, 2011. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A joint investigation was underway today into the discovery of more than 200 plastic bags filled with oil-soaked dirt that authorities believe were about to be removed from the site of a leaky oil well near a high school in Echo Park.
Officials from the city and county of Los Angeles and from the state converged on the site just west of downtown this week after a spill, estimated to be from 20 to 40 barrels, was discovered Saturday, the Los Angeles Times reported.
A representative of the Los Angeles Fire Department told The Times that fire inspectors had visited the site twice in October and issued an unspecified citation, then issued more citations after the spill was discovered.
The well is located at 413 Firmin St. on a bluff overlooking the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center.
Saturday's inspection was brought on by a whistleblower who told fire officials that the owner, Vida Resources LLC, was attempting to conceal a spill by covering the oil with dirt, LAFD spokesman Peter Sanders said.
Bags of contaminated dirt were mounded next to the well when inspectors arrived Monday, said Uduak-Joe Ntuk, head of the city Office of Petroleum and Gas Administration and Safety.
The cause of the leak, which was releasing oil into a block wall containment area around the grasshopper-style pump, had not been determined, Ntuk said. No oil escaped the containment area or threatened the Roybal Learning Center, but harmful gases may have been released into the atmosphere, Ntuk said.
Los Angeles County Fire Department's Health Hazmat unit ordered Vida Resources to send the bags to a hazardous waste facility, said Inspector Gustavo Medina. On Tuesday, the owner moved the bags into a waste bin labeled hazardous waste, Medina said.
A spokesman for the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources said the agency is investigating but declined to specify what violations may be suspected.